The 5 Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
Our nation’s national parks are some of the most popular summer vacation destinations. In fact, most of the 423 American national parks will see a majority of their crowds between May and October each year.
But the parks don’t close once the snow hits the ground! In fact, winter is a fantastic time to visit. The crowds are thinner, the overlooks are more scenic, and the night skies are clearer! And whether you’re looking for the best winter hikes, sports, family-friendly activities or more, Shaka Guide has you covered.
Here are our favorite national parks to visit in the winter months.
Best for Family-Friendly Winter Activities
1. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon City, Utah
Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash
Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the highest concentration of stone hoodoo formations on Earth. During warmer months, over a million people will visit Bryce Canyon to hike among the mighty hoodoos. Even though the colder months blanket the hoodoos with snow, most of the scenic drives and trails remain open for hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and more.
But Bryce Canyon also has a plethora of family-friendly winter activities, too.
Each December, Bryce Canyon National Park partners with Audubon Society to host the Annual Christmas Bird Count. At Bryce, 90 different birds have been recorded in the species list and each year, volunteers gather to count them! This family-friendly event is a great way to see the natural beauty of Bryce Canyon, get some fresh air, and help a worthy cause!
And then each February, Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon hosts a weekend-long family-friendly Winter Festival with guided tours, archery classes, astronomy demonstrations, family dance parties, and more! (And all of it is free with your park admission!)
Check out Shaka Guide’s Bryce Canyon National Park Tour for a full-day adventure in the park.
RELATED: The Ultimate Bryce Canyon National Park Travel Guide
Best for Winter Hiking
2. Arches National Park
Photo by Anthony Chiado on Unsplash
While Bryce Canyon may have the highest concentration of hoodoos on Earth, Arches National Park in Moab, Utah boasts the highest concentration of natural stone arches on Earth. Coincidentally, both parks are only about 4 hours apart, too!
If you’re a hiking enthusiast who loves a challenge and doesn't mind the cold, Arches National Park is a perfect match! The park is chock full of scenic hiking trails that are moderately easy during the warmer months but get slightly more challenging–but ten times more lovely–when the snow falls. Check out the Windows Hike, a 1-mile round-trip hike that gives you an up close and personal look at the famous Turret Arch and the North and South Windows. And be sure not to miss the famous Delicate Arch hike–a 3-mile round trip trail that gives you sweeping, wintry views of the La Sal Mountain Range before bringing you to Utah’s most famous image: the Delicate Arch. When it’s snow-covered and frosty, it’s a magical sight to behold!
Be sure to bring proper winter hiking clothing, ice poles, and over-the-shoe crampons or other traction devices.
Visit Arches on Shaka Guide’s Arches National Park Tour!
RELATED: Know Before You Go, Arches National Park
Best for Winter Wildlife Viewing and Photography
3. Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash
Encompassing 3,471 square miles, 2.2 million land acres and three states, Yellowstone National Park is one of the country’s largest national parks. It will probably come as no surprise that being that large means the weather can change drastically depending on which section you’re in. During the colder months–usually November through March – many of Yellowstone’s main roads close completely because of snow and ice. In fact, the only part of the park open to automobiles is the Northern Range of the park – Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Fall, Lamar Valley, and out to the park’s Northeast Entrance.
Luckily, the Northern Range of Yellowstone is often the best place to spot wildlife! Keep your eyes peeled for bison, elk, moose, and wolves. They’ll be even easier to spot against a snow-white backdrop. And speaking of backdrops, the winter landscape of Yellowstone is the perfect one for dramatic wildlife photography!
Best for Winter Sports
4. Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Hole, WY
Photo by Joel Holland on Unsplash
Grand Teton National Park is essentially Yellowstone National Park’s kid brother; they even share a park entrance! Peak season here is May through October. After that, it’s not unusual for the snow to hit the Teton Mountain Range at a fast and furious pace. Most of the scenic drives at Grand Teton National Park close because of winter weather conditions. But that doesn’t mean the fun ends!
During the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the shadows of the Teton Range can be once-in-a-lifetime experiences, especially for the “silent winter sport” enthusiasts out there! There are even ranger-led hikes for beginners, too.
But if you’re looking for even more thrills, the nearby town of Jackson Hole, WY is a ski-lover’s paradise! You’ll find lodging, hills for every skill level, rentals, master classes, and more. Jackson Hole even offers ice skating, sleigh rides, and winter biking, too.
Best for Winter Holiday Magic
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO
Photo by Andrew Gloor on Unsplash
Nestled among the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, CO is the ideal setting for a truly magical holiday wonderland. Spend the day skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and exploring the snowy trails. Later, curl up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa and Christmas music at the famous Stanley Hotel. Or maybe snuggle under a warm blanket as you take a scenic horse-drawn sleigh ride through the forest! The town of Estes Park, Colorado lights up – literally – with holiday decorations and a yearly Catch the Glow Christmas Parade in December. There’s also an annual Winterfest celebration complete with ice sculptures, wine tasting, chili cookoffs, and food and craft vendors.
Visit Rocky Mountain National Park on Shaka Guide’s Rocky Mountain National Park Tour!
RELATED: One-day Itinerary: Rocky Mountain National Park
Don’t let the snowy skies and freezing temperatures deter you - winter is a beautiful time to take in the magic and wonder of our nation’s parks!